Vegas to Atlanta to Vegas… a trip report

I used to believe jet lag was a huge myth until I recently decided to make a huge trek across the country and then turn around and do it again in less than 24 hours. 4 days later, I was still reeling from it’s effects. It’s not very often that the “small” G5 school that you attended is afforded the privilege to play in a New Year’s Day bowl game. Unless you’ve been sheltered from the sports world for the last week, you are aware that the UCF Knights went 12-0 during the regular season and have proclaimed themselves the 2017 National Champions. They were consciously left out of the college football playoff due to many issues that we could debate and discuss until the end of time. Anyway, they were given the task of playing an Auburn team in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. The Knights opened as a nine point underdog.

If you’re curious as to why I put the word small in quotations, it’s because UCF has the second largest enrollment in the United States at 64,000+ students. UCF has been in the top 10 in enrollment since I was on campus(class of ’13).

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courtesy of Google Search

Nevertheless, when it was decided that UCF would be in Atlanta for New Year’s, I decided that I was going to go to the game, but my work schedule only allowed for a one day, there-and-back, quick turnaround trip. My excursion was filled with some awesome moments, even in the short time frame, that included a momentous Vegas Golden Knights game as well.

I decided to document my trip to let you experience the craziness that I experienced as 2017 became 2018…

December 31, 2017:

10:00 am – Wake up, head downstairs to grab breakfast and turn on some week 17 football. The Patriots playing the Jets in freezing temperatures, looking to secure the #1 seed, seemed like the only interesting game of the week, to me. Let’s face it, week 17 this year had no real do-or-die matchups between both teams and the fact that the rebuilding Bills made the playoffs shows the top heavy balance in the NFL this year.

11:00 am – Pack a Ziploc bag with my phone charger, headphones and my game ticket. The hassle of carryon luggage combined with the fact that I have nowhere to put my bag during the game tomorrow led me to just combine all my essentials in to one quart size plastic baggie.

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11:45 am – Leave the house, head to the strip to attend the Vegas Golden Knights game versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. game starts at 12:30pm so I am probably going to be late to the game.

12:15 pm – Park in my super secret spot on the strip. Not many places have free parking anymore so it’s nice to have a sweet little unknown place to park my car.

12:18 pm – Order the Uber and wait at the pickup point. 4 minutes to pickup. GREAT! We are gonna get to the arena right on time for faceoff. 12 minutes later the Uber driver has turned the wrong way down Flamingo Rd. We saw him headed the opposite direction and then suddenly, our ride was cancelled. Fucking dick. He got a pretty negative review on the app. Screw you, Jason.

12:25 pm – Jump in the taxi line and grab a cab. Headed down the strip as quick as we can, we arrive at the arena at 12:40pm.

12:45 pm – Get through security and scan my Flash Seats to receive our seat locators. The whole building erupts as Vegas goes up 1-0 on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s goal. We get up to the 2nd deck and decide to grab some food. As we are standing  in line, William Karlsson finds the back of the net for his first of the game and it’s 2-0 before we’ve even sat down.

2:00 pm – Text alert on my phone. Southwest has delayed my flight to Atlanta by one hour. Now scheduled to leave at 6:20pm. No worries, made me feel a bit of relief honestly. If this hockey game goes to overtime,  I don’t want to be rushed or have to leave early.

3:15 pm – William Karlsson nets his third goal of the game on an empty netter with the craziest diving shot I have ever seen in my life. The first Hat Trick in Vegas Golden Knights history. I’ve never seen a hat trick live, so naturally you know what I had to do. I promptly took off my fitted white Golden Knights hat and launched it toward the ice. From the second deck of T-Mobile Arena, my hat made it all the way down to the field of play.

3:40 pm – Game ends. 6-3 Golden Knights victory. We decide to walk on the strip back to our cars. The temperature is nice and since the flight is delayed, I’ve got some extra time to kill.

5:00 pm – Arrive at the airport in long term parking and head toward security. I already have my boarding pass, thanks to the awesome Southwest Airlines app. The security line consists of me and… that’s it. It was awesome. I’ve never experienced a time when there was not one person in line for security at an airport.

5:10 pm – Get to the gate to find that the flight is delayed until 6:25 pm. No problem. I find the nearest charging station and plug my phone in. For a five hour flight, I’ll need the battery life to watch some Netflix shows. Shoutout to Netflix for being able to download movies and shows that you can watch in airplane mode.

6:00 pm – We begin boarding the plane. As I line up to scan my boarding pass, naturally I stand directly in front of three Alabama fans. They see my UCF hat and decide to push their P5 dribble.

“You guys were good and all, but y’all not gonna get by Auburn. They just too good for your team.”

I decide it’s best just to let the Knights do the talking.

6:25 pm – I take my seat in the 2nd to last row of the plane. I figure based on the security line, the flight shouldn’t be too full. I was right, there may have been 30 people on the plane, tops. I had about 6 rows to myself. It was glorious. I strapped in and we were wheels up.

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Somewhere around Memphis, Tennessee the flight crew decided to have a NYE celebration. I thought that was pretty cool of them to do that. They passed out champagne and sparkling cider to all the guests on the flight and did a countdown and then strobed all of the lights in the cabin.

 

1:00 am – We land in Atlanta, now on east coast time, and I head toward the Uber pickup. As we head up the escalator, the airport had a sweet graphic welcoming UCF and Auburn fans.

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1:35 am – Uber driver Chris picks me up from the airport as we head toward Union City, a suburb of Atlanta. We chatted about the Peach Bowl and the discussion shifted toward the NFL. Chris is a Lions fan living in Atlanta so he didn’t have a rooting interest in this years playoffs. I think I convinced him to cheer for Brady and the Patriots.

2:00 am – Arrive at the LaQuinta Inn in Union City. Check into room #411. Pretty nice digs for the night.

8:30 am – Wake up. It’s too late to make the Peach Bowl parade so I decide to get some breakfast at the hotel before heading back to bed. The spread was pretty good for a hotel continental breakfast. They had a buffet style setup with coffees, teas and juices. They also had bagels and toast and a waffle iron.

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11:30 am – I grab an Uber from the LaQuinta to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. As we rode to the stadium, it began to snow. Oh man, I knew it would be cold… but snow?IMG_0961 Thanks to Ivan for the awesome Uber ride. I like it when the driver engages with their customers and not just a boring ride with no interaction. Ivan and I discussed the bowl games and the playoff system and he told me he was a recreational gambler himself. I told him about the Vegas Squares podcast and got us another follow on Twitter. Hey, every bit helps. I arrive at the Georgia World Congress Center, thank Ivan and head toward the new Georgia Dome.

 

11:45 am – As I head toward the Dome, I think back to all the people who I have talked about this game with, and they’ve all said that the new stadium

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is beautiful. So as I approach the new stadium, I have to say I agree with them. It looks a little bit like a spaceship.

12:30 pm – It’s time for kickoff and the crowd is intense. UCF seems to have filled their side of the stadium as there doesn’t seem to be an empty seat on our side. I cannot say the same thing about the Auburn Tigers side of the Arena.

 

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1:00 pm – UCF came out of the gates a bit slow. The offense was lackluster and couldn’t get anything going for the first quarter and a half. Luckily for the Knights, Auburn’s offense was just as bad during that time. With the score tied at 3-3, finally UCF is able to get into the end zone with a McKenzie Milton 18 yard touchdown scramble. The crowd erupts and UCF has the lead late in the second quarter.

2:26 pm – UCF carries a 13-6 lead into halftime and you can feel the energy on the UCF side of the stadium. I head into the concourse to get a bite to eat, and since I’m in Atlanta you know I had to get Chick-Fil-A and a Coke. The best part about the new stadium in Atlanta is the affordability of the food and beverage options. I bought a large souvenir cup soda for $4 with unlimited refills and two Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches for $5 a piece. So, for $14 dollars, I got two sandwiches and bottomless soda. Not a bad deal at all.

3:37 pm – Early in the fourth quarter, UCF scores on an 8 yard TD pass from Milton to Snelson and UCF takes a 27-20 lead. The UCF crowd is rockin’ now and the Mercedes-Benz sound system crew plays Zombie Nation. If you know anything about UCF football, that’s our jam. The entire UCF section is on their feet bouncing like they do back at home. The facility was shaking, it was a little scary.

3:55 pm – UCF drives but cannot score, setting up a field goal attempt. Matt Wright’s attempt is blocked and the UCF crowd, including myself, begin to feel a bit uneasy. Score remains 27-20. Auburn begins their drive with chunk plays on UCF’s defense. And then suddenly…

Chequan Burkett’s Pick 6 gives UCF a 34-20 lead with 6 minutes remaining.

4:04 pm –  Auburn gets down the field incredibly fast and scores on an Eli Stove 7 yard reverse and it’s now 34-27. UCF drives down and sets up what appeared to be the game clinching FG. However, the attempt goes wide left and now, we got a final epic drive for the whole game. UCF runs their prevent defense and basically allows Auburn run all the way down the field with ease.

4:17 pm – Antwan Collier intercepts Jared Stidham in the end zone and the Knight’s have sealed the victory. A couple obligatory kneel downs and UCF is 2018 Peach Bowl champions!

 

 

5:00 pm – I head out of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium with my mind set on one thing. Gus’ Fried Chicken. For those of you that have never tasted this glorious gift from above, I urge you to go. There’s one in Atlanta (obviously), Memphis and Los Angeles from what I know of.

7:05 pm – Wheels up, headed to Vegas. The College Football Playoff games were airing and luckily for me, Southwest had Wi-Fi on the flight. So I popped my headphones in and watched the consolation playoff games because, after all, UCF is the National Champions anyway.

10:45 pm – Wheels down in Vegas. And back to the grind…Go Knights Go!

 

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